Ag education, outreach Harvest Breakfast topic
CENTREVILLE — For the 29th year, the Queen Anne’s County Chamber of Commerce and the University of Maryland Extension joined to discuss commerce and crops at the annual Harvest Breakfast Friday, Nov. 30. The event featured a series of presentations explaining “How Extension Works for You.”
It included Jenny L. Rhodes, extension educator for Agriculture and Natural Resources for the University of Maryland; Rachel Rhodes, Extension Queen Anne’s County Master Gardner coordinator and Horticultural educator for the University of Maryland; Ashley K. Mclaughlin, Food Supplement Nutrition Education project leader for Queen Anne’s and Caroline counties; and Christine Johnston, extension educator 4-H for Queen Anne’s County.
Lastly, it included remarks from Jim Hanson, associate director for the University of Maryland Extension College of Agriculture and Natural Resources and a donation presentation to Steven M. Schwalb, director of the Maryland Food Bank – Eastern Shore Branch.
“We work with the Chamber of Commerce to bring everyone together because we’re all in business together,” said Jenny Rhodes. “The idea this morning was to give people the opportunity to meet and talk about their business. Our job is to educate the people about agriculture in our county. People know extension is here, but don’t really now what we do.”
What started as a meeting in a side room with a mere 10 people has now grown to a yearly event that drew over 150 people.
In discussing with farmers what they wanted the university to do most, the answers were clear and resounding. They wanted the program to teach what agriculture is, help farmers deal with regulations and be the county agricultural resource for anyone who needs it.
That includes doing press and attending meetings with farmers to discuss their economic impact. It also means holding events where different members of the business community can come together and discuss how to help farmers.
For younger participants, there’s agriculture awareness days now in their third year. Ag Awareness Days include 16 organizations that came together to educate over 600 members of the public in the county.
“What we call agriculture literacy is arguably one of the most important things we’re addressing in 4-H and Extension,” said Johnston. “There are people who have no idea where their food comes from and others living a food deserts which leads to food insecurity. The 4-H Youth Development Program spends much time with our traditional 4-H programs and also during inschool opportunities.”
A strong component of agricultural literacy discussed at the breakfast was the need for nutritional education.
“Extension offers a variety of programs and nutrition is very important because that ties into agriculture,” said Mclaughlin. “Farmers that produce our food and those who eat it are equally dependent on one another. We partner with local farmers and farmers markets to tie the nutritional and economic end together. We also have the farm to school initiative to start education early.”
That occurs through cooking demonstrations
and allowing the farmers markets to advertise to wider audiences. The goal, according to Mclaughlin, is to address obesity in the state. Currently, treating the numerous health problems linked to obesity has costs the state $3 billon.
According to data collected by the University of Maryland Extension, for every one dollar spent on nutrition education, $10 can be saved in longterm health care costs.
The final aspect of outreach and education is learning from the most qualified growers available. That has precipitated 20 counties in the state that already have a Master Gardner program.
Aside from providing non-biased, research-based data to support environmentally sound decisions, the mission of Master Gardner program is to the educate the public who are not traditional farmers about the importance of the growing nutritional food.
Queen Anne’s County started its program in 1998 and was comprised of 25 interns from across the Eastern Shore. It was the first to start such an organization with Talbot County following suit eight years later.
“We’ve trained over 1,800 people to be Master Gardners on the Eastern Shore. In Queen Anne’s County exclusively, they have volunteered over 65,000 hours, or $1.6 million in income, back to the county. Today we have 65 active Master Gardners, 20 interns and 16 Emeritus Master Gardners,” said Rachel Rhodes.
Hanson provided an overview of the University of Maryland Extension and its expansive programs. In terms of impact on a local level, through 4-H participants alone, they have worked with 50,000 students statewide.
The array of initiatives now offered include science technology engineering and mathematics programs and environmental programs. Their focus also teaches natural resource management and horticulture.
“We work with all farmers whether they are beginning, small, production, women in agriculture and these are all different clientele. So it’s a much more complex grid. There a strong value added with the number of our partners, so all extension is local,” concluded Hanson.
At the end of the morning’s program, $1,500 was announced as the total donation from the breakfast to the Maryland Food Bank – Eastern Shore Branch, which will go to fund 4,500 meals.
Jenny L. Rhodes, extension educator for Agriculture and Natural Resources for the University of Maryland, spoke about the various extension programs.
Ashley K. Mclaughlin, FSNE project leader for Queen Anne’s and Caroline counties, discussed the need for outreach to teach where food sources originate.